Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

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Hezbollah Regroups Amid War Jitters, Attracts Greater Number Of Cross-Sectional Recruits

Hezbollah is re-grouping amid war jitters and Israeli war games, Nicolas Blanford writes in the Christian Science Monitor. The heightened tensions may simply mean more posturing, but since the assassination of Imad Moughniyeh two months ago, the Lebanese Shia group are recruiting more Sunnis, Druze and Christian Lebanese to their ranks, and undertaking intensive training stints in Iran. (Excerpted, read in full at the CSM)

Over the past few weeks, military activity on both sides of the border has contributed to war jitters … The Israeli military just wrapped up a nationwide war drill it dubbed “Turning Point 2,” and Hizbullah appears to have devised new battle plans that include cross-border raids into Israel and has mounted a sweeping recruitment and training drive, even marshaling non-Shiites and former Israeli-allied militiamen into new reservist units.

[…] Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the party’s leader, in February said that Hizbullah had evolved into an “unparalleled new school” that is part guerrilla force and part conventional army.

A European diplomat in Beirut, who has been watching Hizbullah’s preparations, likened attacking the organization to “punching a sponge” – it absorbs the blow then bounces back – and questioned whether Israel still fully appreciates what it is up against.

Hizbullah’s military buildup is not confined to Shiite Lebanese. Sunnis, Christians, and Druze also are being recruited into reservist units called “Saraya,” or battalions.

Building ties to Sunnis serves for Hizbullah the double purpose of expanding support while also helping improve Shiite-Sunni relations, strained due to political divisions in Lebanon.

In the southern coastal town of Sidon, a Sunni Islamist militant group called the Fajr Forces, which fought invading Israeli troops in the early 1980s, has been resurrected as a Hizbullah ally.

Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a prominent Hizbullah cleric, last month was quoted as saying that next time “the Israelis will find resistance fighters from all sects and denominations.”

Hizbullah has been particularly active, according to residents, in the eastern pocket of the zone patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The area is the mainly Sunni Arqoub district and faces the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied mountainside running along Lebanon’s border with the Golan Heights.

Having lost ground here to political rivals after the 2006 war, Hizbullah is now seeking to regain its influence through funding a new group called the Arab Resistance Front, a reservist force for local Sunnis. Even former members of the now disbanded Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army militia have joined the new group, according to local residents.

“Hizbullah will not turn down anyone who wants to join the resistance,” says Izzat Qadri, the Sunni mayor of Kfar Shuba and an ally of Hizbullah.

Despite the frequent recruiting in the border zone, officials with UNIFIL say there is no evidence Hizbullah has reactivated its bunkers and rocket-firing positions that the militants abandoned at the end of the 2006 war.

Hizbullah fighters presently are deployed along a new front line above the Litani River, north of the area patrolled by UNIFIL. In the past 18 months, Hizbullah has purchased land from local Druze and Christians, constructed an entire Shiite-populated village, and turned the mountains and valleys of the area into sealed-off military zones.

“There are armed and uniformed Hizbullah men crawling all over the hills. We often hear gunfire and explosions from their training,” says one local resident.

5 comments on “Hezbollah Regroups Amid War Jitters, Attracts Greater Number Of Cross-Sectional Recruits

  1. LDU
    16 April, 2008

    I saw a news report talking about something similar following the 2006 War – Churches supporting Hezbollah.

    I have a bad feeling about this. In the long run, I don’t think it is in the interest of Lebanese Christians to be a part of Hezbollah, they should oppose Israel through different means and create their own resistance groups.

    I suggest they should oppose Israel alongside Hezbollah in times of armed conflict, but to incorporate themselves with Hezbollah may later be regretted.

    In a scenario where Hezbollah forms government, i have concerns for the treatment of Lebanese Christians and the safeguarding of their rights. If Lebanese Christians are to face socio-political/economic hostility in such an environment, they’ll feel betrayed and regret having been part of Hezbollah’s recruits, and such feelings may lead to even worse and bitter rivalries than we’re witnessing now.

  2. Ann
    16 April, 2008

    Thanks for your comments, LDU. I understand your caution, but recall that Christian groups, namely Aoun and the FPM, have already allied with Hezbollah. The Lebanese opposition (internally) is now cross-denominational and should Hezbollah form government, I have no reason at all at this moment to think that Christian rights would not be safeguarded or that the environment would be hostile—the Aoun-Nasrallah pact has fostered very cordial relations. Are your concerns based on anything in particular?

    For the opposition to succeed, it has to be as unified as possible and have significant appeal to non-Shia denominations. It is in Hezbollah’s best interests to protect non-Shia rights, this goes to the heart of the plural Lebanese identity.

    Sectarian loyalties are already being blurred slowly, with fault lines occuring along political rather than religious lines. Does this development not have potential to advance the process of national non-sectarian based interests further?

  3. LDU
    17 April, 2008

    My concerns are based on observations on the general status of Christians in the Middle East, in my opinion they tend to have the end of the stick nowadays.

    Shia militia’s violence against Iraqi Christians has increased exponentially since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Christians aren’t too well off in Egypt either. And if Palestine’s dwindling Christian population indicates anything – it’s that they’re being mistreated, and that may be due to Bethlehem’s increasing Muslim population.

    I’d assume that a regime change in Syria will also be against the interests of Christians.

    I may be way off the target thinking Lebanese Christians will regret their alliance with Hezbollah, but it’s just a feeling.

  4. DetainThis
    26 April, 2008

    Like him or not, Nasrallah is a man of virtue. True, Hizballah’s raison d’etre—in addition to the resistance to the Israeli occupation—is the welfare of the historically downtrodden Shia community of Lebanon; still, one can not deny his consistent, principled dedication to the defense of all those who cannot defend themselves. For that reason, I admire the man as much as any other foreign (me being a U.S. citizen) political leader. Another man of high principles is Hamas’ Haniyeh, though he is virtually powerless over things in the IOPTs. I also admire this blog; the contents of which provide excellent study material for my in-progress essay focusing on the historical use of the UN as a tool for the raping of Lebanon at the behest of Israel and the USA. Be well and fight the good fight.

    28 April, 2008

    Hi DT and thanks very much for your comment. I agree also about Haniyeh’s personal integrity from what I’ve gleaned from several sources such as this one that describes how Haniyeh insists upon living in one of the poorest areas of east Gaza City and takes a salary at about a third of what he was offered.

    Best wishes with your essay and your studies and please do visit again.

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